Evolution of the tumor suppressor BRCA1 locus in primates: implications for cancer predisposition

Hum Mol Genet. 2004 Nov 15;13(22):2737-51. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddh301. Epub 2004 Sep 22.


Germ-line mutations in the BRCA1 gene predispose affected individuals to breast and ovarian cancer syndromes. In an attempt to systematically analyze a broader spectrum of genetic changes ranging from frequent exon deletions and duplications to amino acid replacements and protein truncations, we isolated and characterized full size BRCA1 homologues from a representative group of non-human primates. Our analysis represents the first comprehensive sequence comparison of primate BRCA1 loci and corresponding proteins. The comparison revealed an unusually high proportion of indels in non-coding DNA. The major force driving evolutionary changes in non-coding BRCA1 sequences was Alu-mediated rearrangements, including Alu transpositions and Alu-associated deletions, indicating that structural instability of this locus may be intrinsic in anthropoids. Analysis of the non-synonymous/synonymous ratio in coding portions of the gene revealed the presence of both conserved and rapidly evolving regions in the BRCA1 protein. Previously, a rapidly evolving region with evidence of positive evolutionary selection in human and chimpanzee had been identified only in exon 11. Here, we show that most of the internal BRCA1 sequence is variable between primates and evolved under positive selection. In contrast, the terminal regions of BRCA1, which encode the RING finger and BRCT domains, experienced negative selection, which left them almost identical between the compared primates. Distribution of the reported missense mutations, but not frameshift and nonsense mutations, is positively correlated with BRCA1 protein conservation. Finally, on the basis of protein sequence conservation, we identified missense changes that are likely to compromise BRCA1 function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alu Elements
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • BRCA1 Protein / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Exons
  • Female
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • Genes, BRCA1*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Primates / genetics*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • BRCA1 Protein

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AY365046
  • GENBANK/AY589040
  • GENBANK/AY589041
  • GENBANK/AY589042